#yeg turns five

#yegToday marks the fifth anniversary of the #yeg hashtag on Twitter (here’s #yeg tweet number one). Can you believe it has been five years since Twitter started to take hold here in Edmonton? I can’t. I’m also continually surprised at the impact our humble hashtag has had on this city. Here’s something I wrote back in 2009 about the start of the #yeg hashtag.

It started out simply but has exploded in use since, and not just online. Now it is common to see the tag offline, even in the names of companies like YEG Live. I’m always surprised when newcomers to Twitter discover and start using the hashtag, but I’m even more surprised when I see it out in the offline world! What is it about those three letters?

YEG didn’t start with Twitter, of course. Most Edmontonians would associate YEG with Edmonton because of our international airport, constructed around 1960. According to Tom Hinderks and Richard Skermer, YEG would likely have been assigned to us roughly a year before the airport received its operating certificate, so that would have been 1959. That means those three letters have been associated with Edmonton for more than 50 years! But it wasn’t until Twitter came along that Edmontonians really started to embrace YEG as a sort of identity for the city. It was probably a wise decision for the Edmonton International Airport to focus on EIA as its brand rather than YEG, because there’s a risk it would have gotten lost amongst the chatter.

Use of the hashtag on Twitter has grown fairly steadily over the years. Today it might not even be the hashtag that you follow most, it might instead be one of the 430+ related tags that have become popular such as #yegfood or #yegtraffic. There were nearly 1 million tweets posted by Edmontonians last year that included the #yeg hashtag or one of the related tags, and that’s up from less than 140,000 in 2009.

How do you pronounce it? I did an informal survey on Twitter in December 2011, and that was one of the questions I asked. About 61% say yegg (rhymes with egg), the rest spell it out as in why-e-gee. Around the same time I asked Chris Martyniuk, co-founder of YEG Live, how he pronounces it. “Originally we were adamant about spelling it out,” he told me. “But we gave in about a year ago, because everyone said ‘yegg live’.” However you choose to say it aloud, online those three letters have become synonymous with Edmonton.

People from other cities often comment on how connected and tight-knit the online community in Edmonton seems to be, and I think the #yeg hashtag is really at the heart of that. We’ve used it to make new friends, to share the news, to raise money for important charitable causes, and for thousands of other interesting and important reasons. The world of social media is very different today than it was in 2008, with a variety of new services like Pinterest and Instagram, but the #yeg hashtag remains as a way to bind it all together.

I had no idea that Twitter would become as popular as it has in Edmonton, nor that the #yeg hashtag would take hold and play such a significant role in creating a sense of community here. Thank you to everyone who has used #yeg to make this a richer, more interesting city to call home.

Here’s to the next five years of #yeg!